Undocumented Chinese national unleashes terror at lithium plant

Jeffrey Moyo

Goromonzi—An undocumented female Chinese national illegally working as a human resources officer at Shengxiang Lithium Processing Plant in Goromonzi’s Nora Valley is at odds with local workers at the giant firm east of the Zimbabwean capital Harare.

The plant, which started operating in this rich farming area recently, is owned by Shengxiang Investments Private Limited, a Chinese outfit.

Records at the registrar of companies show that its directors are Chinese nationals Kaiwen Liao, Jiandong Liao, Kai Li, Shuping Lin and Zimbabwean Terrence Ncube, who is listed as the principal officer.

Ordered to stop

The company was in January slapped with a ZW$100,000 fine by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) for operating without the requisite impact assessment certificate.

The EMA ordered it to stop operating until it acquired the certificate but the company, with the reported backing of powerful politicians, defied the directive.

Known as Wengy Tan, the Chinese national is said to be harassing local employees at the lithium firm, not sparing ordinary visitors and the media.

She is into her sixth month in Zimbabwe, NewsHub established.

Tan, in an interview, almost exploded as allegations of her abusive conduct were put to her through a translator.

She vehemently refuted the allegations levelled against her, though.

“It’s not that I don’t respect locals here. My tone of speaking is very high and people might think I am disrespectful,” Tan claimed.

Several workers who declined to be named fearing victimisation alleged that Tan was in the habit of indiscriminately expelling employees without following the law, and despite the fact that she was working in Zimbabwe without a permit.

Terrence Ncube, the company operations manager and local company director, confirmed that Tan did not have a work permit yet.

No work permit

“At this stage we are still restructuring the company, the organogram of the company and our mill just started. We took her (Tan) to help us. We are still putting certain papers in order one by one and yes, she doesn’t have a permit yet. Since we have just started, we will be organising all the paperwork even for Wengy as we go,” said Ncube.

Three Chinese men who sat around a table taking Chinese tea spoke rather discordantly at the top of their voices while behind them next to the door, sat two Chinese women one of whom was Tan who appeared rather emotional as she spoke.

Through an interpreter, the Chinese men barred NewHub from touring the lithium processing plant, claiming they needed to first get permission from their unidentified boss in China.

Although Tan denied being abusive with workers at the lithium processing plant, a day after this publication visited the plant, she fired Innocent Manhando, the human resources manager, claiming he was underperforming.

Her order carried the day despite the fact that Tan was junior to Manhando, who reported that his expulsion followed his request for the company to comply with local labour laws.

“I was fired for advising the management to pay government’s national employment council rates to its workers, this as the company is paying much less than 150 dollars for general workers instead of $355,” Manhando told NewsHub a day after he was expelled.

Tan, who Manhando said was merely a translator by profession—implying that she could speak English—was also at the centre of reported racism at the Chinese company where she barred black employees from eating in the canteen.

Manhando also alleged that some employees had their contracts revoked for failing to communicate properly in English yet most of the Chinese nationals at the lithium mining company could not speak the same language.

Manhando’s expulsion from work was partly caused by his decision to travel to Bulawayo to attend to his sick brother.

Tan is said to have agreed to the Bulawayo trip, but subsequently changed her attitude and accused Manhando of poor performance and fired him through WhatsApp.

“According to your performance in the past one and half months, I don’t think you are fit for this position in the company. I prefer someone who can always devote himself to work rather than taking care of distant families,” said Tan to Manhando on WhatsApp.

However, Tan insisted that she did not fire Manhando, saying “there is nothing like that.”

“We can only do so with the instruction of the bosses,” she said.

“She shouts abusively at all workers and doesn’t respect visitors to the plant. Right now, everyone works out of fear at the plant because of her, yet she has no work permit,” said Manhando.

With most workers at the Chinese lithium plant working without safety shoes more than six months after the company started operating, she (Tan) through an interpreter, claimed work was in progress to bring those over from China.

Meanwhile, general workers at the Chinese firm earn $5 per day, a figure which the operations manager, Ncube, confirmed was correct, even though, according to him, that was paid to part-timers.

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